Comparing Digital Materials from the Middle East

A hands-on comparison of the digital materials from manuscript collections of Beirut, Nablus, Jerusalem, and Riyadh.

Preface

Digitization projects have been taken up by manuscript libraries around the world. The two pillars of such libraries -catalogues and the actual holdings- are undergoing a process in which they first become available digitally, usually for a fee, then they become available online for viewing, sometimes for a fee, then they become available for download, at which point the fee may be dropped and access is granted gratis. Let us take a closer look at the different qualities of these pictures to 1) better understand what we may expect and 2) see if we can come up with certain preferences.

This post does not focus on one collection but rather gives a brief impression of several collections.

 

Beirut MS 160 2b Sharh Hidayat al-hikma TRUE

Origin: Beirut

File Size Original: 402kb

Dimensions Original: 1280 x 1737

Particular Folio: MS 160, f. 2b: Sharḥ Hidāyat al-ḥikma 

Evaluation: Although file size comes close to what we would desire, the photo is taken professionally with good lighting and a good cut around the manuscript, I would say this photo is not good enough to use, especially for the glosses. It is somewhat out of focus and does not nearly provide the desired level of detail.

 


Jerusalem Yah Ms Ar 590 7b-8a Hashiya Sharh Tahdhib TRUEOrigin: Jerusalem, Yahuda (?)

File Size Original: 3.2mb

Dimensions Original: 5521 x 3828

Particular Folio: MS Arab 590, ff. 7b-8a: Ḥāshiya Sharḥ al-Tahdhīb

Evaluation: High-resolution, professional picture of which little is to say. Could we have this for every manuscript, please?

 

 


Nablus 259 1b-2a Sharh shamsiyya TRUE

Origin: Nablus

File Size Original: 5.8mb

Dimensions Original: 4344 x 4240

Particular Folio: MS 259, ff. 1b-2a: Sharḥ al-shamsiyya

Evaluation: The file size is huge and we do not get that much for it in return. Perhaps these digital files were created from a microfilm? There is a terrible amount of noise in the pictures, making too much unreadable. Perhaps useful as a comparison manuscript, but surely no sane person would work from these files alone.


 

Riyad - Minhaj al-salikin TRUE

Origin: Riyadh

File Size Original: 149kb

Dimensions Original: 2160 x 1440

Particular Folio: Impossible to know. It is a two-page spread.

Evaluation: A great many manuscripts from Riyadh have been scanned and are freely available online. The poor quality of the photo together with the fact that there is often no metadata available makes usage limited. For certain tasks this poor quality is not insurmountable. Even the text of the manuscript displayed here is legible to some extent.


 

Riyad 6955 27b-28a - Sharh hidayat al-hikmah TRUE

Origin: Riyadh, King Saud Library

File Size Original: 662kb

Dimensions Original: 2083 x 2695

Particular Folio: MS 6955, ff. 27b-28a: Sharḥ Hidāyat al-ḥikma

Evaluation: A pulled this manuscript as well from the internet, also from Riyadh and with a very different quality. It comes with a watermark, visible on the right. Lighting is poor and quality is lacking, but it is at least a lot better than the previous picture and I knew the MS number.

 

Here is the full picture of the last MS, showing at the top how they kept the manuscript open while photographing.

Riyad 6955 27b-28a - Sharh hidayat al-hikmah2

Conclusion

This post merely gives an impression of what is out there and the conclusion is that quality varies greatly. Some manuscripts are digitized professionally but then still look not so good (Beirut). Much material is barely usable, putting into question whether we will have to digitize these manuscripts again at some point.

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